Automation leader, John Diebold, dead at 79

Just by chance a recent article in the LA times obituaries entitled "John Diebold, 79: Pioneered Computer Use in Automation of Business" caught my eye.  It's interesting to read about his life as he is credited with coining the term "automation".  Automation is such a normal everyday term for me that I can't even conceptualize a time when somebody would have to think about and try to "sell" the concept.

John Diebold 1964 interview

Diebold's first experience with automation came in World War II where he was a merchant marine and observed the self-correcting mechanisms on the anti-aircraft gun systems.  Needless to say they were pretty crude devices but it sparked his imagination to apply these principles to business.  After the war he obtained his education at Harvard Business school.  One of his term papers was "Making the Automatic Factory a Reality".  The paper outlined the use of a central computer to control all the automatic processes in a factory.  An an idea well ahead of it's time when one computer alone took up a whole building.  He graduated in 1951.

In 1952 at the age of 26 he wrote the book "Automation" which laid out in more detail the radical idea of using programmable devices in daily business and manufacturing.  These concepts were very controversial during his days as it was feared that robots would replace humans and thus create huge amounts of unemployment.  A very interesting CBC documentary in 1964 interviewed John Diebold about these very disturbing trends.  By this time Diebold was seen as a leading thinker in this area.  He had been fired from his original employer three times for being too insistant that businesses use computers so he started his own consulting firm in 1954.  His company, John Diebold and Associates, became a huge success with clients such as AT&T, IBM, Boeing and Xerox and paved the way for such innovations as electronic banking, automatic factory lines, electronic record storage, and interoffice computer networks.

Futher reading:

Cnet: John Diebold, 79, a visionary of the computer age, dies

TG Daily: John Diebold (1926-2005) 

PLCdev: PLC History